Planned SIO research building worries neighbors


By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

Community planners and residents alike in La Jolla Shores are balking at conceptual plans to build a new, 40,000-square-foot marine research building on the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) campus, arguing the area is becoming saturated with structures.

“There’s not much left of the (ocean) view,” said Tim Lucas, after the recent meeting of the La Jolla Shores Association. “The community is not in favor of losing what little view we have left.”

He was responding to plans for the proposed $26.5 million Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling Laboratory (MESOM), presented by Milt Phegley, UCSD campus community planner.

“The MESOM project is a new multidisciplinary program at SIO for the long-term observation of ocean ecology of the waters off the California coast,” Phegley said at the group’s September meeting. “The ultimate goal is to use the information gathered in this integrative fashion to forecast numerical models from actual observations to be able to forecast climate changes in the future. The end game is to improve ocean policy information for the benefit of users, policymakers and resource management.”

The project will be funded by a $12 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), supplemented by UCSD/SIO funds and debt financing. Phegley said construction on the MESOM building is planned to start late this year and be complete in mid-2012.

The three-story, 21,300-square-foot building will be divided into 12 laboratories, 56 offices and three conference rooms. The facility will develop physical, biological and chemical sensors and the ocean-going platforms to support them.

The proliferation of buildings, like the new proposed MESOM project, which are continually sprouting up on the grade coming down from UCSD on La Jolla Shores Drive, are of increasing concern to Shores’ community planners and residents.

Lucas said Scripps Institute officials should be more forthright about their ongoing building plans.

“Instead of their pretending they’re not going to block views, they ought to just say, ‘We need this lab and it’s going to block a view.’ ”

Another Shores resident, Bernie Segal said he “would like to know, aside from the general collection of data, what is the practical use to come out of all of this effort and all of this money?”

Segal’s query was answered by SIO researcher professor Mark Ohman: “Scientists at Scripps tend to be in different buildings isolated from one another,” he said, adding that it is an inefficient system which is being changed with them all collaborating under one roof at MESOM.

“At Scripps we do basic research, and our research has implications for real-work issues for California, the nation and beyond,” he said. “The research done will be used to help improve the sustainability of coastal fisheries, to measure changing ocean climate and to develop buoys and sensors and other new instrumentation that will work faster and cheaper.”